Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE RUSTY GRAKLE, OR RUSTY CROW BLACKBIRD.
QUISCALUS FERRUGINEUS, Lath.
PLATE CCXXII.--MALE, FEMALE, and YOUNG.
In the winter months the Rusty Grakle is found as far south as Lower
Louisiana and the Floridas, which it reaches in small flocks, along with the Cow
Bunting and Red-winged Starling, with which it continues frequently to associate
until the return of spring. At this season it occurs in all the Southern and
Western States, as well as in the Middle and Eastern Districts., where some
remain during the most severe cold.
These Grakles are fond of the company of cattle, and are seen with them in
the pastures or in the farm-yards, searching for food among their droppings, and
picking up a few grains of the refuse corn. They are less shy than the other
species, possibly because less acquainted with man, as they retire to the north
for the purpose of breeding. In the winter they frequently resort to moist
places, such as are met with round the ponds and low swampy meadows, where you
sometimes find a single one remaining for weeks apart from its companions. They
then feed on aquatic insects and small snails, for which they search diligently
among the rank reeds or sedges, which they climb with great agility. Their note
is a kind of chuck. It is rare to meet with them in full plumage at this time,
even the old males becoming rather rusty, instead of being of a pure glossy
black, as they are in spring.
About the beginning of March, the males are seen moving northwards. They
cross the greater part of the United States almost in silence and unheeded,
seldom tarrying any where until they reach the State of Maine, where some few
remain to breed, while the greater number advance farther north. I saw some of
these birds on the Magdeleine Islands, in Newfoundland, as well as in Labrador,
where many breed. Their migrations are performed by day.
In their habits they resemble the Red-winged Starling, becoming loquacious
at this season, and having a lively and agreeable song, although less powerful
in tone than that of the species just mentioned. Equally fond of the vicinity
of meadows or moist places, they construct their nests in the low bushes that
occur there. The nest is not so large as that of the Redwing, but is composed
of much the same materials. In Labrador I found it lined with moss instead of
coarse grass. The eggs are four or five, of a light blue colour, streaked and
dashed with straggling lines of brown and deep black, much smaller than those of
the Redwing, but in other respects bearing a considerable resemblance to them.
They begin to lay about the 1st of June, in the State of Maine, and fully a
fortnight later in Labrador. They raise only one brood in the season. The
young, when first able to fly, are nearly of a uniform brown, brighter on the
breast and shoulders. Although they seem to prefer alder and willow bushes, for
the purpose of incubation, I have found their nests among the tall reeds of the
Cat's-tail or Typha, to which they were attached by interweaving the leaves of
the plant with the grasses and strips of bark of which they were externally
During early autumn, and before they remove southward, they frequently
resort to the sandy beaches of lakes, rivers, and the sea, in search of small
testaceous mollusca and aquatic insects. They do little or no mischief in the
corn-fields. While walking they frequently jerk their tail, and move with much
grace, in the same manner as other birds of the genus. Their flight resembles
that of the Red-winged species.
An acquaintance of mine, residing in New Orleans, found one of these birds,
a beautiful male in full plumage, not far from that city, while on one of his
accustomed walks. It had been shot, but was only slightly injured in one of its
wings, and as it was full of vivacity, and had a clear and brilliant eye,
indicating that its health had not suffered, he took it home and put it in a
cage with several Painted Buntings. They soon became accustomed to each other,
the Grakle evincing no desire to molest its smaller companions. I saw it when
it had already been caged upwards of four months, and had the satisfaction to
hear it sing repeatedly. Its notes, however, were less sonorous than they
usually are when the birds are at liberty. It frequently uttered its travelling
chuck-note. It was fed entirely on rice. This was the only specimen I ever saw
in captivity, and it proved a very amiable companion.
I have figured three of these birds, to enable you the better to understand
their different states of plumage, and placed them on a plant of the genus
Prunus, which grows in Louisiana, and on the berries of which they occasionally
This species is found on the shores of the Columbia river, and in all the
districts intervening between them and those of the Gulf of Mexico, at least in
winter and the early part of spring. Mr. TOWNSEND, who procured some on the
Columbia, did not inform me whether it breeds there. Northward, according to
Dr. RICHARDSON, its summer range extends to the 68th parallel, or as far as the
woods reach, and it arrives in pairs on the banks of the Saskatchewan in the
beginning of May. In that country it joins with the Redwings, Common Crow
Blackbirds, and Cow Buntings, in committing depredations on the corn-fields.
The eggs of this species measure one inch in length, five and a half
eighths in breadth. Their ground-colour is pale blue, marked sparingly with
blotches of brownish-black, and others more numerous of pale purplish-grey, the
former disposed round the large end, the latter over the whole surface.
RUSTY GRAKLE, Gracula ferruginea, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. iii. p. 41.
QUISCALUS FERRUGINEUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 55.
SCOLECOPHAGUS FERRUGINEUS, Rusty Maggot-eater, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor.
Amer., vol. ii. p. 286.
RUSTY BLACKBIRD, Quiscalus ferrugineus, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 199.
RUSTY GRAKLE, Quiscalus ferrugineus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 325;vol. v. p. 483.
Male, 9 1/2, 14 1/4.
From Texas to Maryland, and along the Mississippi and Ohio to Kentucky,
during winter. Migrates northward to the Fur Countries, and to the Columbia
river, in summer. Common.
Bill of moderate length, straight, tapering, compressed from the base;
upper mandible prolonged on the forehead, forming an acute angle there, a little
declinate at the tip, the dorsal outline slightly convex, the sides convex, the
edges sharp and inflected; lower mandible nearly straight in its dorsal outline,
convex on the sides, the edges sharp and inflected; gap-line deflected at the
base. Nostrils basal, oval, half closed above by a membrane. Head of ordinary
size, neck rather short, body rather slender. Feet of moderate length, strong;
tarsus compressed, with a few long scutella anteriorly, sharp behind; toes
compressed, the lateral nearly equal, the outer united as far as the second
joint to the middle, which is much longer, hind-toe not much stouter than the
inner; claws rather long, arched, compressed, very acute.
Plumage soft, blended, glossy. Wings rather long, second quill longest,
first and fourth equal. Tail rather long, slightly rounded, of twelve broad
Bill and feet black. Iris pale yellow. The general colour is deep black,
with greenish and bluish reflections.
Length 9 1/4 inches, extent of wings 14 1/4; bill along the back 3/4 along
the edge 11/12; tarsus 1 1/4.
Bill, iris and feet as in the male. The general colour is brownish-black;
the sides of the head over the eyes, and a broad band beneath it light
yellowish-brown, the feathers of the lower parts more or less margined with
Length 8 11/12 inches, extent of wings 13 1/2.
In a male preserved in spirits, the palate is slightly ascending, with two
papillate ridges; the posterior aperture of the nares 5 twelfths long, margined
with small papillae; the upper mandible beneath slightly concave, with three
longitudinal ridges and four grooves. The tongue is 9 twelfths long, narrow,
very thin, concave above, sagittate and papillate at the base, the tip slit and
lacerated, forming two elongated points. The tongue is thus very different from
that of the Buntings and Finches, which generally have it deeper than broad, and
is similar to that of the Crows, Starlings, Thrushes, &c. The breadth of the
mouth is 5 1/2 twelfths. The oesophagus is 3 inches long, its greatest width 5
twelfths, on entering the thorax contracting to 2 1/2 twelfths. The stomach is
elliptical, rather large, 10 twelfths in length, 7 twelfths in breadth; the
lateral muscles rather thin, the tendons large; the epithelium thin, dense,
reddish-brown, longitudinally rugous. The stomach is filled with small seeds
and insects, together with some grains of quartz. The intestine is 11 1/2
inches long, from 2 1/2 twelfths to 2 twelfths in width; the coeca 3 twelfths
long, 1/4 twelfth in width, 10 twelfths distant from the extremity.
The trachea is 2 inches 4 twelfths long, considerably flattened; its rings,
which are firm, about 80, with 2 additional rings. Bronchial half rings about
15. Four pairs of inferior laryngeal muscles, which are large and well defined.
In all the Quiscali, Icteri, and other birds of this group, there are
slender salivary glands as in the Thrushes and Warblers, as well as the Finches
THE BLACK HAW.
PRUNUS NIGRA, Pursh, Flor. Amer. Sept., vol. i. p. 331.--ICOSANDRIA
MONOGYNIA, Linn.--ROSACEAE, JUSS.
Leaves deciduous, ovate, acuminate, unequally serrate, smooth on both
sides; umbels sessile, solitary, few-flowered.
This species of Prunus, which is tolerably abundant in Louisiana, the only
State in which I have observed it, grows along the borders of the forest, and
often attains a height of thirty or more feet. Its leaves fall at a very early
period, but its fruits, which are pleasant to the taste, remain until after the
first frosts, or until devoured by birds, opossums, squirrels, or racoons.